28 Apr How To Behave When You Lose Your Cool

Ever lost your cool when “on-hold” with a bank or similarly large corporate business? I have.

It’s the music that really drove me nuts: a loop of auditory torture interrupted only by a recorded voice who keeps assuring me that my call is valued and important and that someone will attend to me shortly.

I glanced at the clock and realise how much time has already been wasted, and this realisation served as a sudden accelerant for my self-indulgent rage.

Suddenly, I’m the perfect demonstration of healthy communication gone wrong: I’m behaving in exactly the way I spend my entire working life helping people NOT to behave.

I’m raising my voice, I’m interrupting, and I’m no longer thinking (or speaking) rationally. I know I’m behaving badly, but I don’t stop anyway, and the fact that I don’t stop is making me even angrier.

The angrier I got, the worse I behaved, and the worse I behaved, the angrier I got.

It didn’t end well, for either of us.

Later, once I’d had time to calm down, I felt ashamed at how I behaved. I tried telling myself that it’s their fault for torturing me with that music and keeping me on hold for so long, but I felt empty inside.

Deep down I knew that how I behaved was my responsibility, and mine alone. I choose to behave badly because I believed two things (neither being actually true)…

1) I believed that my bad behaviour was justified. (that is, “it’s not my fault that call centres are so annoying, therefore it’s not my responsibility how I behave”).

2) I believed that my bad behaviour was out of my control: that I couldn’t help myself, and couldn’t have stopped even if I tried.

I speak with couples every day and I know that when partners “lose it” with each other, it’s usually because they make the mistake of believing these same two things.

I know this is happening when partners say things like:

“She makes me so mad! I know I yell and say horrible things, but I can’t help myself!”

“My partner makes me so angry, it’s her fault that I get so drunk!”

“He deserves my rage, after what he did to me!”

“Our kids drive me crazy with their fighting! Anyone would lose it like I do!”

Look closely and you’ll see that inherent in these statements are the (incorrect) beliefs that behaving badly is something that’s justified by the actions of another, and that it’s outside our control.

There is a better way.

Next time you’re wound-up and at risk of indulging your anger with bad behaviour, try these steps instead!

1. Stop. Breathe.

2. Remind yourself that you can stop behaving badly whenever you choose.

3. Find that part of your brain that’s “adult” and speak only from there.

4. And if that’s not possible, take time out.

My ranting at the customer service representative was regrettable. I could have shared an interaction with another human being that left us both better off, not worse. Sure, we are unlikely to ever cross paths again, so the consequences of my decision that day for each of us are minimal – but what if I gave myself permission to behave like this with someone I love?

I’d be hurting and harming the very people I love the most, all because I’d be believing stuff that isn’t true.

I frequently see the consequences that partners face when they make the decision to indulge the very worst parts of themselves when with the very people they love the most, and not surprisingly, it doesn’t end well, for either party.

Partners frustrate, disappoint, annoy, or outright enrage each other at times – it’s just part of the deal. Yet each of us is responsible for what happens next. Believe this fact, and you’ll be well placed to create a relationship that thrives.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. She has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive for over 25 years. Contact Pamela here.